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GOP quietly amends Franks’ abortion bill, adds rape, incest exceptions

WASHINGTON – House Republicans tried to distance themselves from Rep. Trent Franks’ controversial comments over an abortion bill by quietly amending it to include language that the Glendale Republican had tried to block, experts said.

Franks caused a furor last week when he said that “estimates of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low” as he argued against a rape-or-incest exception to his bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks.

That Democrat-backed amendment was defeated and the bill passed by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, but not before Franks’ comments went viral on the Internet.

Just two days later, the Republican-controlled House Rules Committee added the exemption Friday for victims of rape or incest. The amended version of the bill is expected to come before the full House this week.

Franks’ office did not return requests for comment on the change Monday. But in an emotional floor speech Monday evening Franks addressed what he called the “distortions and bait-and-switch tactics” hurled at his bill by opponents.

“The act is truly and simply a deeply sincere effort to protect both mothers and their pain-capable unborn babies … from heartless monsters” like the Philadelphia doctor convicted this year of murder of babies in connect with botched abortions, Franks said.

Political observers called the Rules Committee action “purely a political move” in response to the “firestorm” of criticism over Franks’ comments.

Ruth Jones, a political science professor at Arizona State University, said the GOP is trying to prevent a repeat of the controversy that erupted over Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s statement that “legitimate rape” cannot result in pregnancy. The furor derailed Akin’s 2012 Senate campaign.

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Kyle Kondik, with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, agreed that the change to the bill is probably a response to criticism over Franks’ remarks. Kondik said Republicans have struggled to articulate “their views on abortion in a way that doesn’t make them the target of ridicule.”

“I think that’s what Franks wasn’t able to avoid the other day,” he said.

Franks’ bill, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” bans abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy on the premise that a fetus can feel pain by then.

Franks said that his comment on rape was taken out of context. He said he only meant that the number of rape or incest victims getting an abortion after 20 weeks was “very low.”

But Planned Parenthood Arizona said in an emailed statement Monday that the Rules Committee amendment “is a cynical political attempt by House leadership to cover up the deeply ignorant and offensive views on women’s health expressed by the bill’s sponsor.”

David Hawkings, editor of the CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing, said the committee likely added the rape or incest exceptions in an attempt to get as many abortion opponents as possible to vote for the bill on the floor.

Hawkings thinks the bill will have enough votes to pass the House but will then stall in the Senate.

Despite the furor, Jones does not think the issue will affect Franks’ popularity among his constituents, who re-elected him with 63 percent of the vote in 2012.

“He’s a well-established and respected conservative Republican leader . . . I don’t think that’s going to hurt him politically in his district,” she said.

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Stephanie Snyder/Cronkite News Service

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, created a furor with a remark last week on his bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks, which is why some believe House Republicans amended the bill to soften it before a full House vote.

Taking exception

A bill by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy included one exception. The House Rules Committee tacked on the second. Such abortions would be banned unless:

  • “(i) in reasonable medical judgment, the abortion is necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself, but not including psychological or emotional conditions; or
  • “(ii) the pregnancy is the result of rape, or the result of incest against a minor, if the rape has been reported at any time prior to the abortion to an appropriate law enforcement agency, or if the incest against a minor has been reported at any time prior to the abortion to an appropriate law enforcement agency or to a government agency legally authorized to act on reports of child abuse or neglect.”